The President's News Conference
THE PRESIDENT. The people of Porto Rico have made magnificent progress in stir-government and the establishment of democratic institutions. The government is ably conducted by Porto Rican-born citizens and there are today only three or four important officials upon the island who were not born there. I am advised from every quarter in the island that there would not be a popular vote of 5 percent in favor of independence.
The people are making progress from the effects of hurricane, drought, and the business depression, all of which were imposed upon a century-old poverty. They are showing great courage and initiative in this rehabilitation. They will this season, in large degree, have recovered their crops.
The devastating effect of the hurricane is still represented in the thousands of one-room shacks housing whole families. The most constructive contribution of the Federal Government is to continue and expand the present policies of aid to and cooperation with their institutions in education, health, better adaptation of agriculture, expansion of industry and markets.
THE VIRGIN ISLANDS
The Virgin Islands may have some military value sometime--opinion upon this question is much divided. In any event when we paid $25 million for them we acquired an effective poorhouse comprising 90 percent of the population.
The people cannot be self-supporting either in living or government without the discovery of new methods and resources.
The purpose of the transfer of the administration from the naval to a civil department is to see if we can develop some form of industry or agriculture which will relieve us of the present costs and liabilities in support of the population or the local government from the Federal Treasury or from private charity.
Viewed from every point except remote naval contingencies it was unfortunate that we ever acquired these islands. Nevertheless, having assumed the responsibility, we must do our best to assist the inhabitants.
Q. Will the present policy towards Porto Rico be continued ?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes. Porto Rico, I think, stands as a great credit to the American people. It has a population of nearly 900,000; under self-government it would probably have a living standard nearly as high as any people in the Western Hemisphere. There are 760 police in the island. That includes all forms of peace officers. They are showing a great ability in building up a substantial state, they are making fine progress and are sending many men abroad. Many graduates in many South American countries and many in the United States from Porto Rican institutions. In other words some groups in Porto Rico are capable of a great deal of development.
Q. Will anything be done about the suggestion of using Porto Ricans in our diplomatic service ?
THE PRESIDENT. The Porto Ricans have an ambition to enter our diplomatic service. I was a great deal struck with the many capable men there, especially the judges, and the chief justice. He is a man of very considerable parts. We could use them to advantage. We should give them an opportunity in our diplomatic service.
Q. Is there any line of industry to be developed in Porto Rico ?
THE PRESIDENT. The work of Governor Roosevelt has uncovered many lines of development. The next step is to build up more industries. They have taken up very systematically all kinds of production which might be increased. They have developed a large market. I was very much encouraged by a very large order received from one of the mail order houses in the United States. They have established agencies in New York City. That is one line of attack. They need someone to look after their interests outside. We need a transformation in the Department of Agriculture to have a number of tropical plants developed in Porto Rico which look very promising. These may help out in the Virgin Islands as well. The sugar business in the Virgin Islands is practically gone. They do not produce one-third as much an acre of what is produced in other parts of the West Indies, and probably has no hope at all. The harbor of St. Thomas is not likely to be built up like it was before the war. Steamers are now going to other ports where they can take on oil. I do not see much hope for the restoration of the business of their harbor. It must follow some other direction. Intensive [omission] appears as a means of possible livelihood.
Q. Is there any suggestion that we might give up the Virgin Islands ?
THE PRESIDENT. I don't think so. We have reduced expenses by doing away with the Governor at St. Johns. We thought it was not necessary to maintain more than two posts where the total collected taxes amounted to only $700 a year.
Q. How about the idea of transferring Porto Rico to the Interior Department ?
THE PRESIDENT. I have not given any great thought to that question.
Q. Do the same arguments in general apply to Porto Rico as to the Virgin Islands ?
THE PRESIDENT. No, because Porto Rico, with the assistance of the Government, is able to carry on. The Interior Department has to be a daily nurse to the Virgin Islands. We have not given any serious thought to this transfer. So far as the actual Federal relationship is concerned we have more relationship through military departments than we do through any other one agency. We have barracks made up of Porto Rican recruits with American officers. It was not until this last winter that we extended any of the Federal services to Porto Rico. The island has been a success from a commercial view. We have a large trade with Porto Rico. The trade comes to us, of course. I think our exports are $60 or $70 million a year.
Q. Is there any question of American competition ?
THE PRESIDENT. The Department of Agriculture has been looking for tropical plants to supplement our agricultural products. That would not be a very serious competition.
Q. Is there likely to be an increase in Federal aid ?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I suppose we will spend $5 or $600,000 here in that direction.
Q. Has the Governor been doing anything to start new industries ?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes. He has been very successful. They have been extending their markets and have been making some shipments to England of bananas, with success. They are stimulating the banana trade. All together the situation is satisfactory and full of hope.
Q. Is there any possibility of growing rubber in Porto Rico ?
THE PRESIDENT. I have no idea. I could not tell you. They would have grown it before this. They have some success in Haiti. American companies have gone there and worked 15 or 18,000 acres.
Note: President Hoover's one hundred and eighty-second news conference was held on board the U.S.S. Arizona about 225 miles north of Porto Rico at 4 p.m. on Thursday, March 26, 1931.
On the same day, the White House issued a text of the President's statement on Porto Rico and the Virgin Islands (see Item 112), which was telegraphed from the Arizona.
Herbert Hoover, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/211888